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Human-centered input helps steer design of 'smart' health care devices

on July 16, 2014

Even if the designers of ‘smart' health care devices have the technology figured out, they need help in figuring out what matters to the people they hope will use the devices. That means obtaining timely, meaningful input from patients, physicians and other end-users.

A panel on “Designing Shared Engagement” explored that topic Monday in Pittsburgh at the Kauffman Foundation's Energizing Health Collaboration Series, a six-part series of events to empower entrepreneurs to better succeed in health care.

Panelists included Kristin Hughes, founder of Fitwits, developer of a suite of educational games to help fight childhood obesity; Amy Cueva, founder and chief experience officer of Mad*Pow, a New Hampshire-based “experience design” firm; John Stivoric, VP of R&D at San Francisco-based Jawbone, which develops health and fitness tracking devices; and Julia Bernstein, head of business development and strategy at, whose smartphone app enables patients to identify changes in behavior that could be early warning signs of severe mental illness.

Hughes, a Carnegie Mellon University professor of information design, described how “doctors and kids” helped design Fitwits' educational games for children and tools for parents, educators and physicians.

“It's critical that all stakeholders be involved in designing (health) solutions,” Hughes said. The testing was conducted in Allegheny County public schools and clinical waiting rooms, she said.

Stivoric said tech device creators and their ideas are sometimes ahead of the public. “There are plenty of things sitting on the shelf waiting for people to figure out they are needed. There are a lot of 'crazy,' wearable ideas nobody would wear today -- but five years from now, I guarantee you they will. They're waiting for the market to catch up,” he said.

Often, the marketplace helps a developing company clarify what it should be. Bernstein said began as a software-focused company incubated at MIT. Since entering the marketplace, “we've learned that we are a platform company that focuses on designing operational models, work flows and implementation tools that patients use and physicians use to interact with patients on a daily basis,” she said.

Even though the app has proven its value to patients, convincing physicians to implement the device is still a challenge, according to Bernstein. “To get clinicians excited, we have to demonstrate why it's valuable not only to them but also to the patient; create a sense of connection and partnership to get them excited.”

The ability to quickly collect patient data with mobile devices has given birth to a new form of “human-centered” research, something different from the traditional randomized, controlled trials.

Health care institutions and traditional researchers need to understand the validity of the new, human-centered method, Stivoric said.

“I don't understand why a non-controlled trial of millions (of device users) doesn't have more benefit than a controlled trial of hundreds of people,” he said. “A lot of time could be accelerated and money saved if people would pay attention to those opportunities.”

Bernstein sees a positive trend in an increase of “people participating in trials, experiments and registries because they want to contribute to the progression of technology and science. We've taken part in this,” she said.

Stivoric also voiced optimism. “The companies doing it are influencing each other in how to go deeper and faster, and bringing health care systems along with them; everyone is pushing each other, which is really cool,” he said. “Consumers are teaching us where their motivations are, to tap into; it's interesting how that is starting to come together.”

Category:  Ideation  Tags:  health IT, health care devices

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